from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, February 28, 2005

A thoughtful email about Teaching 

ON one of the lists in which I participate, there has been a recent discussion about certification, whether one should be certified specifically in History or more generally in Social Studies. There has been a lot of back and forth.

Then I received the following posting from a long-time teacher. I have received his permission to post his message. Read and enjoy.

Dear colleagues,

After almost four decades of teaching, serving on teachers' hiring committees and after parenting four of my own children I hope to have acquired some perspective on what makes a teacher's career either superior or "flawed". Good teachers are almost always well trained in methodology as a result of some sort of "Social Studies Education" training which includes both opportunities for observation and a well supervised student teaching experience. Several years of classroom experience in a collegial atmosphere
polishes one's methods. But merely learning how to stay several chapters ahead of the students while keeping them interested does not truly educate our charges.

ALL truly inspiring teachers are scholars and lifetime learners. This applies to the early elementary grades through the university. If teachers do not exude both love of the students and of the subject area they cannot become truly superior. The argument over a BAs and MAs in Social Studies Education versus basic degrees in history distract us from the central truth that great teachers can start from either base but must gradually become competent in both methodology and subject area. Necessarily, much of this
must be acquired outside of standard degree programs: funded summer programs, NEH fellowships and even Fulbright Scholarships go begging every year.

To inspire students to love learning we must be shining examples of lifetime learning. To be great teachers we must master educational psychology, theories of education and varied types of teaching. We must also understand our students and that requires a mastery of adolescent psychology and varied ethnic studies. To avoid being flawed we must be professional and well
rounded. Because no college can simultaneously make us historians and master teachers, we must become lifetime learners. Furthermore, most historians suffer from inadequate backgrounds in the other social sciences and narrow concentrations make them incomplete historians.

It is not a simple "either...or" situation; its "both" or, more accurately, "all".

Bob Nuxoll, consultant
Oceanside HS, Long Island, NY

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
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I think his comments also inadvertantly highlight the flaws in the tenure system. Teachers are allowed to stop learning, and being one who has a lifetime teaching certificate in Texas, why would one want to continue their education when a) you're certified for life; b) tenured in a system that makes it virtually impossible to be fired if you show up to work every day and don't molest students; c) don't have any financial incentive to continue education. Some states eliminate c by having a well stepped pay scale and tuition assistance, but here in Texas, mighty land of the Bush education plan, the costs of continuing education far outweigh the benefits.

Teachers who teach because they love to will continue to do so, and continue to learn. Those who are frustrated with the profession will continue to work within it because the system will not allow them to be let go.
Thanks for posting this email. I am an art teacher and I can tell you that I enjoy taking classes in teaching techniques and in art. I find that I get very excited about what I teach whenever I learn something new. It makes it alot more fun. Not every theory that comes down the pike works but if ya' don't try it you'll never know.

best wishes marie
I want to thank Scott and Marie for offering their comments.

About tenure -- whatever its weaknesses, which we can debate, it serves as an absolutely necessary protection -- there are far too many IDIOTS or people with an agenda having nothing to do with education who gt elected to school boards. There are far too many who rise to adminstrative positions, in school or district-wide, who if they could would abuse teachers. Tenure provides some necessary protection.

That said -- I think our entire approach ot the evalution of teaching is wrong. The vast majority of expereinced teachers are more than minimally competent, and yet we do not in our process of evaluation take an approach that encourages them to go further or to take risks.

Further, anyone who has been in the calssrom for at least 5 years has seen many "new" and "wonderful" approaches come and go. A new principal or superinetendent arrives, and suddenly there is supposed to be a new approach which is supposed to make everything wonderful. Of course, there is an inevitable decline in performance as everyone has to adjust to the new approach, which of course will be abandoned and replaced by something brought in by the next superintendent or principal.

I can think of many things to improve the quality of teaching in our public schools. First and foremost would be to make the job more doable. I mean that literally. Decrease class sizes and total teacher load. Do not require teachers to do hall or bus or cafeteria duty -- taks that ineveitably put them in conflict with some students and which have little if anything to do with helping the students in their classes succeed academically. Pay them enough that they don't ahve to work second jobs in order to pay the bills necessary to have a decent home and a family.

I escape many of the problems encountered by other teachers. My wife and I ahve no children. We were able to purchase our house when I was working in data processing in the private sector. My wife is a GS-13 who makes substantially more than do I. Thus I do not have to work a second job, and have a decent house. And despite approaching my 59th birthday, I still have sufficient energy for 6 classes totalling 170 students.

But when I retire in 11 years, who will be willling to take on what I do? And will they be able to afford it?

In such a situation, tenure may be the least of our problems.

As far ongoing education, most teachers I know are delighted for the opportunity, but lack the funds to pay for it on their own, and often lack the time -- imagine trying to do an advanced egree at night after teaching all day, staying up with the planning and paper correcting, and oh by the way ahving some time for your family.

How we structure the lives of our public school teachers is iidiotic. That we have as many competent and even good and dedicated teachers as we do is phenomenal. Our approach should cease being punitive, but instead explore how we can change the environment so that (a) we don't lose those good teachers we do have, (b) we can recruit more who would be good teachers, and )c) we can provide the support necessary to help those already wanting to teach to become better teaches.
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